Westminster Seminary California
 
 
A Pastor’s Reflections: Never Answer the Back Door
VFT

I was probably an exception to the general rule, but I was a single pastor for a while. When the time came for the congregation to announce publically my engagement to the congregation I quickly discovered a new dimension of pastoral life—the back door. What is the back door? Literally within minutes of my announcement a few people in the church warmly greeted my fiancé and then unloaded a lot of information upon her—personal, private, information. Within an hour of my engagement announcement I quickly discovered a few personal facts about some people in my church of which I was previously ignorant—broken marriages, and significant struggles with sin. To say the least I was shocked and surprised. But I quickly learned that people are often afraid to talk directly to the pastor or the elders about problems, and instead they will talk to the pastor’s wife. In other words, people will not knock on the front door, they will discretely go to the back door in the hopes that they can drop off their “package” without anyone noticing.

My wife soon adjusted to her unofficial role as the “back door” to my office and would report to me whatever information people told her. My wife would tell me about a problem or complaint that she was given and then asked me, “Are you going to do anything about this?” I kindly answered my wife, “No. I don’t answer the back door.” In other words, I wanted discretely to teach the congregation that if they had a problem or complaint, that they needed to speak with one of the elders or me directly. It was inappropriate to involve my wife or one of the elder’s wives with such matters. The pastor and elders are ordained to handle counseling, problems, and complaints in the church, not their wives. And more pointedly, the church hires the pastor, not his wife, to handle these situations. If a man was working for Apple Computers and had a problem, wouldn’t it seem odd for his co-worker to call his wife to handle the situation?

While I never “answered the back door” and did not accept packages there, I did keep tabs on the situations that my wife would bring to my attention. But the simple truth of the matter is, we have to learn to deal directly with difficult situations we find in the church. We can’t dodge problems by satisfying our nagging consciences by burdening the pastor’s wife.

If we have a counseling issue or complaint, we should first pray about the situation to determine if it calls for further action beyond prayer. Then, if convinced that we must speak with someone, then we should respectfully take it to the pastor or elders directly.